Wimbledon 2021

Keys locks down Kenin in fascinating Aussie opener

Sofia Kenin has won a major championship. Madison Keys, though several years older than her American opponent, has not. Keys has reached a major final. She has knocked on the door of major titles, having reached multiple major semifinals in her career. Yet, she hasn’t taken the final step, which Kenin made two years ago in Melbourne.

Was it really two years ago when Kenin defeated Garbine Muguruza in a compelling 3-set final to win a first major championship? That was the last major tennis tournament played before the coronavirus pandemic began. It was only two years ago, but it feels like half a decade ago if not longer, since life was so different and the world had not yet endured seismic change.

So much has happened to Kenin and her career since then. She made the final of the 2020 Roland Garros tournament in October, losing to Iga Swiatek. She then tumbled in 2021, changed coaches, and is currently searching for answers.

The 2022 Australian Open gave Kenin a chance for a fresh start, an opportunity to see where her game stood against a formidable if erratic player.

Keys is known for being unplayable when at her best … and for reaching that zone of excellence for achingly brief periods of time before (almost) inevitably fizzling out. Keys, when locked in, is a fearsome and ferocious hitter who can overwhelm anyone on tour. Yet, bad shot selection and defensive limitations can quickly snap her out of a groove. That’s the essential point about winning tennis: Players can’t depend on being zoned in on a regular basis. Attaining consistency at a high level — percentage-based success built on making the opponent miss as well as on hitting brilliant winners — is the foundation of a game which is built to last.

Keys’ problem and challenge has always been to be patient, pick her spots, and increase margin without going for the huge winner every time. She knows this. Everyone on tour knows this. Finding that happy medium, however, is easier said than done.

Against Kenin, a player who knows how to defend and compete, Keys had to confront the need to rein in her game if she was to reign for a day in Melbourne.

Mission accomplished. Keys fought off Kenin 7-6, 7-5, in one of Day 1’s more compelling matches in Melbourne Park.

Keys finished the match with 42 winners and 24 unforced errors. A plus-18 differential against Kenin’s defense is superb. Keys got a lot out of her first serve in this match: 15 aces to none for Kenin, with 84 percent of first serves won and only one double fault. Kenin won just 65 percent of her first serves.

Both sets were close, but the serve guided Keys through thorny pockets. She was broken only once, and she won the first-set tiebreaker to relax and gain confidence.

If you were seeking action on this match at an NY sportsbook, you had to take note of how well Keys defended her serve and used that as the pillar of her game.

If Keys can continue to serve like this, her win over a major champion could be the start of something special at this fortnight in Melbourne.

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